A sessions court in Bengaluru Thursday rejected the anticipatory bail plea of an IAS officer K Srinivas and three revenue officials of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in the voter data theft case.
Srinivas has been summoned for investigation by the Bengaluru police over the alleged impersonation of BBMP booth-level officers (BLOs) by workers of a private firm, Chilume Enterprises, for voter data collection. Gultaj Fatima, Kotresh R and Jyothilakshmi are the three BBMP officials also being investigated by the police.
Srinivas, who was the deputy commissioner for the Bengaluru Urban district, was placed under suspension last month by the Karnataka government along with another IAS officer S Rangappa, who was a BBMP special commissioner, based on a November 25 order of the Election Commission of India on the voter data theft issue.
The Election Commission of India directed the chief secretary of Karnataka and the state chief electoral officer to suspend the two IAS officials who were in charge of the constituencies where alleged voter data-linked illegalities were reported.
“S. Rangappa, additional district election officer, BBMP (Central), in charge of 162 Shivajinagar and 169 Chickpet constituencies and K. Srinivas, ADEO cum-deputy commissioner Bengaluru Urban, in charge of 174 Mahadevapura constituency, are directed to be immediately placed under suspension and a departmental inquiry be instituted against them,” the ECI said on November 25.
Since their suspension, both the IAS officers had been summoned by the Bengaluru police who are investigating the alleged theft of voter data by fraud, impersonation and breach of trust by officials of a private enterprise – Chilume Enterprises – in connivance with state officials.
While the former BBMP special commissioner Rangappa has been interrogated by the police in the voter data fraud case the former Bengaluru Urban DC Srinivas is yet to appear before the police. The former Bengaluru Urban DC had sought anticipatory bail and also approached the Karnataka HC over his suspension over the voter data collection fraud.
The BJP government in Karnataka led by chief minister Basavaraj Bommai ordered an investigation on November 17 into the alleged collection of voter data by fraud, impersonation and breach of trust by the `Chilume Group’ after the opposition Congress party accused the BJP of being at the centre of efforts to collect data and to manipulate voters lists ahead of the 2023 state elections.
The Congress alleged Chilume Group is linked to BJP leaders from Bengaluru and that the firm was awarded the voter data collection and awareness work as part of an exercise to manipulate voter lists in Bengaluru through deletions and additions that favour the ruling dispensation.
Two FIRs have now been registered by officials of the Bengaluru civic agency, the BBMP, over the alleged fraud and impersonation of BLOs by workers hired by ‘Chilume’ for data collection for BBMP.
An investigation headed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police from the Bengaluru central region R Srinivas Gowda is underway into the charges of breach of trust, impersonation, cheating and forgery filed by BBMP officials in two separate police stations in Bengaluru. The police have arrested as many as 10 persons in the case so far – including the director of Chilume Enterprises – Ravikumar Krishnappa and three others from the firm, and four BBMP revenue officers for facilitating the fraud.
The four BBMP revenue officers arrested so far in the voter data fraud case — VB Bheema Shankar, K Chandrashekar, Suhail Ahmed and S Mahesh — have approached a sessions court for bail. The bail plea of two Chilume Enterprises employees Kempegowda and Prajwal alias Ravishankar were also rejected by a sessions court on Thursday. Kempegowda is the brother of Ravikumar Krishnappa the director of the private firm Chilume Enterprises which was awarded the BBMP voter awareness and data contract on August 20, 2022 — before the contract was cancelled on November 17 over fraud allegations.
Three others from Chilume Enterprises including its director Ravikumar Krishnappa and executives Renuka Prasad and Sajeev Shetty have also been arrested by the Bengaluru police.
Meanwhile, IAS officer K Srinivas has approached the Karnataka High Court over his suspension.
The former Bengaluru Urban DC and additional district electoral officer of the Mahadevapura constituency said in his plea that he had ordered the filing of an FIR against the private firm Chilume as soon as impersonation of BLOs by workers of the firm emerged last month.
Srinivas argued that an IAS officer can be suspended only after an inquiry, an explanation of charges and the recommendations of a Central Review Committee of the department of personnel. He has argued that no charges were not framed or an inquiry ordered against him by the state.